It is interesting to note that, as conventional fishing decreases, there has been an increased interest in mussel dredging around the coast of Ireland. The mussel business in Ireland has expanded partly because of problems in Holland, partly through official support and partly through individual enterprise.
The fleet consists of more than 50 boats although not all are active and some have been withdrawn as casualties or having failed to obtain their Certificate of Compliance. Given Holland's experience in the business it is not surprising that ex-Dutch boats feature prominently often retaining their original names.
Many of the boats are old often dating from the 1920's or earlier. They were designed for use in the sheltered inshore waters of Holland and are not, therefore, entirely suitable for the exposed rocky coast of Ireland. Two boats taken at random are the "Janna" (SO962) of 1909 and the "Goede Verwachting" (B931) of 1910 - both are Dutch built.
The "Janna" was extensively rebuilt in 1981 and 1991 and structurally strengthened to operate in open waters as was the "Goede Verwachting". All vessels comply with the Torremolinos International Convention for The Safety of Fishing Vessels.
Boats of more recent construction include the "Harvest Seeker" (W224) of 1959 and the "Eendracht" (B935) of 1962 - once again both were built in Holland.
There has been considerable investment in new boats during the last few years. Typically, one of the older boats would have been around 30-35 metres in length with a distinctive appearance - mainly being fairly narrow and with a relatively shallow draught of around 1 - 1.5 metres.
The new boats are much longer at over 40 metres and, in appearance, are more akin to today's pelagic trawlers. The latest addition is the "Emerald Gratia" (WT231) delivered in 2006. She is 49 metres in length with a gross tonnage of 561. Other new boats include the "Wings of the Morning" (WD210) at 44 metres and the "Creadan Lady" (W243) at 43 metres.
If you are interested in seeing mussel dredgers at work remember that the port of registry is not necessarily a guide to where the boat might be found. Under an agreement made in 1964 boats registered in the Republic of Ireland have access to Northern Ireland waters and vice-versa.
Greencastle and Moville, Co Donegal, Bangor and Warrenpoint, Co Down, Carlingford, Co Louth, Arklow, Co Wicklow and Wexford town are all worth a visit both for working boats and those laid up.
The illustrations accompanying this article illustrate only a small part of the fleet. The year of build is given after the registration number.
For further reading I recommend the following publications:
"Fishing Industry Handbook for Britain and Ireland" edited by Peter Brady - an invaluable guide to all fishing boats
The "Irish Skipper" and "Marine Times" (monthly newspapers).
Guide to selected registration letters:
B - Belfast
D - Dublin
N - Newry
SO - Sligo
W - Waterford
WD - Wexford
WT - Westport